Children’s books can take us places we never dreamed possible. Who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to step into Narnia, or visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, wander the streets of Whoville, or swim to Atlantis? Sadly, the fact that these locales are imaginary means we can’t ever visit (at least not during waking hours). But don’t despair. Authors don’t always make up the settings for their stories. With a little effort, you can plan a vacation to the incredible real-life destinations found in your favorite children’s books.
New York City
You could spend weeks exploring the New York of children’s stories. Look for Eloise at the Plaza or James and his giant peach in Central Park. Try to find Ella’s urban hotel and hit Times Square to search for a cricket. Check out the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as described in the The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, to learn about the great painter Raphael like Theo Tenpenny. Ride the Subway to Brooklyn and search for Trixie and Knuffle Bunny. There’s something for kids of all ages in this amazing city.
If you’re in the mood for gelato and gondolas, Venice should be in your travel plans. Younger kids will want to walk in Olivia’s footsteps and glide under the Bridge of Sighs and feed the pigeons in the Piazza San Marco, while older kids (and their parents) can experience the mysteries of Venice as described in The Undrowned Child and The Thief Lord. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Italian countryside and see if you meet Strega Nona.
Only London challenges New York for sheer number of bookish sights to see. First stop is Paddington station, of course, although I doubt you’ll get lucky enough to find a lost bear. Then King’s Cross, naturally, to look for the elusive Platform 9 ¾ and the Hogwarts Express. Peter Pan is probably in Neverland at this time of the year, but you can see his statue in the gardens at Kensington Palace and keep an eye out for Mary Poppins. She may be searching for A Little Princess.
If you decide to wander outside of London into the countryside for a day or two, you could find a mischievous rabbit named Peter in the Lake District or a naughty girl named Alice in Oxford. Don’t let them get you into trouble. Mary Poppins is busy in London, but Nurse Matilda is nearby if you get out of hand.
Oh la la, Paris! Here you can see a tall house all covered in vines and walk the city like the famously brave Madeline. Wander through the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and try to imagine stealing it. Tour the Gare de Montparnasse and look for Hugo Cabret and Isabelle. If you’ve just visited London, ask your older kids to compare these two cities and imagine Paris as Sydney Carton would have experienced it during the French Revolution. If you have time, take a day trip to Giverney to walk through Monet’s gardens like Linnea.
Prince Edward Island
The classic Anne of Green Gables is set on Prince Edward Island, Canada, and it is as charming as you could hope. Visit the house that inspired the setting for Anne’s adventures and enjoy the natural beauty of the island itself.
Few people realize that Island of the Blue Dolphins – a fictional story about a girl named Karana left behind on an island when her tribe leaves to the mainland – is based on a true story of a Native American woman who lived alone in California’s Channel Islands for eighteen years. Today, the Channel Islands are part of the National Park Service and visitors can experience the extraordinary natural beauty and native animals while imagining what Karana’s life might have been like.
Don’t let this list limit your options. Eloise eventually ventured outside of New York to visit Moscow, Tom Sawyer’s Mississippi awaits, and Pete the Cat vacations in Key West. The world is waiting!